Tengo una foto de la Reina Victoria en bolas.... ah, no, era mi tía Chola

Lawrence Nicastro, gentil vejete de 73 años, pensó que se había sacado la grande. Revolviendo cajas llenas de porquerías encontró una foto blanco y negro de una rubia desnuda haciendo dedo en la ruta, y posta posta que era Marilyn Monroe. Pasó cuatro meses "verificando" la foto, y llegó a la conclusión de que se la habían dejado olvidada en un auto allá por los 60, cuando tenía un taller mecánico. Contrató a un "experto marilinólogo", que le dijo "vos tranquilo, que la foto es posta posta: llamemos a los diarios".

Llaman a una conferencia de prensa. Un día antes, dos cronistas de Associated Press van a la casa para tener la exclusiva anticipada de la foto perdida de Marilyn, que para más datos habían datado durante la filmación de "Misfits", la última película que hizo Marilyn.

- ... y ahora que ya nos tomamos unos cafecitos, les mostramos la foto. Lawrence, sacale la colcha apolillada que le pusiste encima así la ven los señores. Taraaaaaaaan ¿Qué les parece?

- Esteeeeeeee...

- Sí, yo cuando la vi tampoco lo podía creer.

- Sí, lo que pasa es que...

- Tenemos pensado subastarla por...

- Che, boludo, es una foto de Madonna de un libro que vendió un par de millones de copias, la vio todo el mundo.

Y así fue como el vejete, que encima vive en Las Vegas, se fue a tomar unos cocteletes al casino y después pidió hora con el oftalmólogo. En la radio AM de su camioneta modelo 52 pasaron Material Girl.

PD: la foto de Madonna es esta - y no jodan, que a Marylin no se parece ni a palos.


Entrevista con Julian Barnes completa

Como prometí ayer, pego debajo toda la desgrabación de la conferencia de prensa que dio Julian Barnes en Buenos Aires el 6 de febrero. Las preguntas son de todos los periodistas que había en la sala - gente de Clarín, Ñ, La Nación, Veintitrés, Inrockuptibles, Perfil, Brando, La Voz del Interior, BBC, La Prensa y algún otro medio que seguro me olvido (además de quien suscribe para el Buenos Aires Herald). La versión editada se publicó en tres partes en el Buenos Aires Herald el 12, 13 y 14 de febrero, con algunas fotos propias (una de ellas accidentalmente salió movida y fuera de foco, y la usamos a propósito) y otras prestadas por el British Council, responsable de toda la movida "Barnes en Buenos Aires". Disfruten, gente.

In Arthur & George, George is an immigrant suffering from that condition. Is the situation of immigrants in the UK worse than it was a century ago?

I didn’t live a century ago. When I first came across this story, which is a real-life story in which Arthur Conan Doyle, who of course invented Sherlock Holmes, solved a real-life crime in which the son of an Indian Farsi priest and a Scottish mother was wrongly accused of mutilating horses and cows, I thought reading it and seeing how police and the justice system and the official bureaucracy of the country reacted that it could have happened today. I didn’t think it was a historical story. And when I thought of turning it to fiction initially I thought I would try and tell two stories: the story from 100 years ago and then a contemporary story which paralleled it. But the more I thought about it the more I realized that this 100-year-old story was telling contemporary truths anyway, and therefore I don’t think of it as a historical novel: I think of it as a contemporary novel which just happened to happen 100 years ago. It’s very difficult to compare the situation of immigrants and people of different races up to 100 years ago today. I think one of the problems for George in the novel is that he was surrounded by white people and society and that he wanted to become white, whereas the situation wouldn’t happen like that nowadays: nowadays there is certainly a moderate amount of racial prejudice in my country, but the those who suffer it have a choice of cultures in a way that the character in my novel didn’t. So nowadays someone like George would say “if the old white British don’t like me then I will be Indian, I will be Farsi”. Of course that doesn’t mean that prejudices don’t continue to exist.

Is this the English Dreyfuss case?

Well, in some ways yes, and indeed I came across this story not when I was reading about Arthur Conan Doyle, on whom I never had any particular interest until this came along: I was reading a short account of the Dreyfuss case by an English historian, called Douglas Johnson, who died two or three years ago and was a wonderful explainer of France to the English, and he was a professor of Birmingham university, which was quite close to where the events of Arthur & George took place. And he said in the preface that almost three years after the Dreyfuss case a parallel case happened in England in which a ratial element (Dreyfuss being a Jew and George being half Farsi), a miscarriage of justice, a sentence to hard labour, handwriting evidence being very important to the case (one of the handwriting experts in the case of George had been used in the case of dreyfuss) and finally the famous writer coming to the rescue. Johnson being a very witty and wise critic said “why has the English case been forgotten while the French case continues to resound after a century?” He said you could answer that the French case was about high treason whereas the English case was about the mutilation of animals, but, he said, in fact the British are probably more shocked by the mutilation of animals than they are about high treason. This is very true: Anthony Blunt was a famous British traitor of the immediate postwar era. There were three or four traitors who were selling secrets to Russia for 30 or 40 years. What was interesting about Anthony Blunt was that he was also an extremely distinguished art historian who was an expert on Poussin, and his official job was called Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures – so while he was selling secrets to the Russian he was also looking after the Queen’s art collection. At a certain point the Secret Service discovered that he was a spy, and they went to him and said “Look, this is very bad, but carry on looking after the Queen’s pictures”. If this man had been found using a knife and cutting the Queen’s little dogs he would have been out of the door! So I think we do take treason less seriously than animal mutilation.

In both the Dreyfuss case and the case of George Edalji intellectuals played a key role. What was the role of intellectuals back then and what similarities do you find with the role of intellectuals nowadays?

I a mvery slow to make generalizations, and I’m particularly slow to make generalizations about what the duty of the writer is. I think it depends obviouslty on the condition of the society and the temperament of the writer. There are many ways to protest. One of my favourite stories about protests is when the surrealists were forming a group in Paris. The great Spanish painter Miró joined the group, and one of the rules who were told by André Breton is that they all had to go out and do something which would undermine society. So some of them went out and would insult a priest in the street, or try and kiss a nun. One day Miró came to a meeting and they asked him what he had done to undermine society, and he said that he had got up to people in the street and said in a veru quiet voice “Down with the Mediterranean!”, by which of course he meant tradition and Latin and Greek and the Renaissance and everything that they had been taught was culture. From that story I always concluded that it depends on the individual artist as well as it depends on the condition of society.

Could you tell us something about your upcoming book and its provocative first line?

The first paragraph is “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him. That’s what I say when the question is put. I once asked my brother, who has taught philosophy at Oxford, Geneva, and the Sorbonne, what he thought of such a statement, without revealing that it was my own. He replied with a single word: ‘Soppy.’” So it’s a book which is part memoir and part essay, it goes from one mode to the other and back again. It’s partly a family memoir, it’s partly an argument with my brother, it’s partly an argument with and against God, it’s about Death, in fact there’s a lot about Death in it, it’s a celebration of art and I hope it’s got a few jokes in it.

In your columns for the New Yorker you wrote of politics and the transition from Margaret Thatcher on to John Major and then Tony Blair, who is the subject of the last piece. In it you wrote that you couldn’t get anyone to give you a prognosis of his government and you yourself showed a mixture of hope, fear and uncertainty. Now that the Blair years are behind us, how do you look back on them and on the portrait that you wrote before they started?

I haven’t reread it, but my memory of it is that I thought he would be more hones than the previous administration but that I thought he would be just as conservative, and I think that that has=certainly proved the case. Mrs. Thatcher, who is not my favourite politician, said at one point about Tony Blair something like “He’s my boy.” It is one of the most remarkable and for me unpredictable happenings in British politics in my lifetime that when Mrs. Thatcher arrived into power she seemed to me and to other people an eccentric, a one-off with a very hard-line, right-wing, pro-market agenda, and I misjudged her. I thought this would be a little move to the right and then things would go back to the centre, but it is as if she’s hung the clock permanently at a different angle. She didn’t think of John Major as very much of a successor because he wasn’t as hard-line as her. In fact, I think none of the fundamental reforms that she introduced have been turned back by Tony Blair, nor indeed by Gordon Brown. I think I misjudged how essentially conservative my country was: when I was growing up and things moved from a vaguely left-wing Conservative to a vaguely right-wing Labour again this was actually a sort of narrow period, a small passage of British politics, and now we are going back to the sort of politics that we had more in the 19th century. The extreme gap between rich and poor is now well in line with Victorian levels if not worse, and people don’t seem to mind this.

You’ve written about quintessentially British things: does it surprise you when you come to Argentina and find that people unveil plaques and name parrots in your honour?

I went to visit the “Miguel Cané” Borges library this morning and I was astonished to see this plaque that said that I had visited the library that day. I thought that it must be an ironic argentine joke, and that as soon as I turned my back they’d put another one that said Ian Mc Ewan visited the library on that day. So I took out my handkerchief and I pretended to wipe my tears but in fact I was extremely moved by it. But it does mean I should come back to Buenos Aires at regular intervals without warning anyone to check that it is still there. In England I am sometimes thought of as a rather suspiciously Continental, foreign writer, but of course when I go somewhere like France they say “No, you’re not Continental or French, you are very British.” The fact is it’s always a surprise how your books travel: I wrote two novels before Flaubert’s Parrot, both of which sold very small amounts of copies and just about appeared in paperback, and then I wrote Flaubert’s Parrot, which when I described it to people, including my publisher, I thought would sell even less than my first two books. When it started being translated and read and understood in other countries it was one of the most wonderful moments of my writing life. And the sort of surprises like I had this morning are the purest form of reward that you get as a writer. Apart from anything else, it encourages you and strengthens your belief that art not only travels but also tells more truth than anything else.

The protagonist of Flaubert’s Parrot is obsessed with Flaubert. Do you share that obsession with Flaubert or any other writer?

I’ve written two books which feature a writer, but Flaubert’s Parrot came of a long obsession with Flaubert which is absolutely mine. He is, not just for me but for Milan Kundera, Vargas Llosa and Philip Roth too, the writer’s writer par excellence. He’s a great writer that I reread constantly and constantly find new things in: the last thing I did before leaving England was write a long article about the fifth volume of the Pléiade’s Correspondence, so he’s remained with me all my life and will continue to do so, whereas I couldn’t be less interested in Arthur Conan Doyle. It was just that when I came across this extraordinary case which no writer had touched in 100 years I thought “This is my story, I’m going to tell this story” and Conan Doyle was there, I couldn’t chase him out of the story, but I would have been just as happy or probably happier if it had been a lawyer or a dentist or a car mechanic because you can have too much of a writer writing about a writer.

The narrator of Flaubert’s Parrot establishes a Decalogue of things that a novel should never be about (God, Oxford and Cambridge, etc.). Do you agree with this decalogue and would you add to it?

You’re being very tactful because you know and I know that one of the areas of literature on which the narrator says there should be a temporary ban is magic realism from South American writers. At the end he says “I propose there should be a special branch for novels taking place in Antarctica and the Artic.” This was written at a time when it seemed that any novel that was written in Latin America and had a magic realism element to it was automatically a work of genius, so it’s part a satirical protest because there are always orthodoxies and schools that come and go. The character has my obsession with Flaubert but I tried to give him a different character, and the section in which he details his preferences for reading overlaps 40 to 50 per cent with mine so I tried to draw him differently. I am surprised when I see reader’s copies of Flaubert’s Parrot and each of those 10 forbidden areas have written in for a particular book have written in a particular book that Flaubert’s Parrot is meant to be attacking, but it wasn’t intended like that at all. It was meant to characterize the author, but it is also a playful novel in the sense that the narrator and I occasionally overlap.

Why do you think that the stories of ordinary people with their small treasons, small fantasies and small unfulfilled dreams still interest readers?

I think the best literature isn’t snobbish, and the best literature acknowledges that regardless of money and social position people love and are happy and suffer in roughly the same way. The writer finds his or her stories wherever he or she can, and they are the stories that speak to you. To quite a large extent, it’s not you who choose the stories but the stories choose you. I said before that I recognized Arthur & George and said “that’s my story”, but you could equally say that the story was saying to me “you’re mine.”

What is the place of your collections of short stories in your work?

I’ve written 10 novels and two collections of short stories, but I didn’t write my first collection of short stories until I was more than 50. I think short stories are harder to write than novels because they are closer to poetry, in that you can imagine a perfect short story as there are perfect poems but there’s no such thing as a perfect novel: every novel has something wrong with it. The US novelist Randall Jarrell defines the novel as “a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.” I always felt apprehensive towards the short story, and the ideas that came to me when I started writing always seemed to come for long pieces of prose with something wrong with them. At a certain point in my life I began to find stories coming to me which said they were short stories, that they could tell just as much in a much shorter space. Publishers certainly believe that short stories are not as important but it’s very unpredictable: the book of mine that’s sold the most in Germany by a long way was a book of short stories, The Lemon Table. This was partly because it was shown and discussed on a television programme, but even so. I suppose that short stories sort of help build up reputations without building up sales: Ian Mc Ewan, who is a great friend of mine, started by writing short stories, and they did make an impact at the time but it was more an impact of reputation rather than sales.

You visited Borges’s library and also one of Neruda’s houses in Chile: what is your interest in writers’ homes?

When I was in Chile I was partly being looked after by the Argentine writer Gonzalo Garcés, and when I told him “we’re going to Neruda’s house today” he was rather puzzled because he said he had absolutely no interest in writers’ houses, writers’ shrines. I always found them fascinating, I even go to writers’ houses when I don’t like the writer. At one point I had a contract to write a book about the houses of French artists, writers and composers. I can’t really identify it: it’s something sentimental, about looking for things that somehow put you in touch with the dead writer. In Neruda’s house it was the wonderful collection of bars that he had, he bought a bar from a bar in Marseille and it was fully stocked, it’s a wonderful object, and then you turn around and there’s a lineup of toby jugs: Neruda, who I think had never been to England, had a collection of about six of them, he collected them for what they looked like, and just at that moment you have a moment of touch, of contact. At the Victoria Ocampo house it was slightly different because I didn’t know that much about her but I knew about the people that she knew. Just to see a piano sitting there at a room and to know that Stravinski had sat at that piano and had played just has a certain effect on me. Maybe when Gonzalo Garcés is a bit older he will learn that this fetishism has room to develop in him.

Do you go to the houses of all the writers that you admire or have read about in Europe?

I often do, if possible. Also composers' houses and painters' houses. It's partly to see i they made more money than me. I particularly like to go to the houses of writers that I admire. I greatly admire Kipling, who is very unfashionable to admire at the moment, especially the short stories, and his house is in Sussex. I didn't know much about it when I went there, and there in the garage was the most magnificent Rolls Royce convertible car from about 1911 or 1912: writers have status symbols as well as other forms of success. Victoria Ocampo liked driving cars, there are photos of her at the wheel - I would have liked to see her car as well.

Your generation managed to make a collective presence for themselves in the international literary world: why hasn't that happened with the following generation of British writers?

I think there was something about my generation... I sometimes think that writers are a bit like restaurants: there are some towns that have one restaurant that not many people go to, but then the town gets two, three, four, five, six restaurants and all of a sudden everyone is going out to dinner. Sometimes when four, five or six writers come out at the same time it creates some kind of acceleration. Those generations when there’s just one or two, or when they can't quite seem to be together, I don't know... It's also got to do with the great Spanish publisher Jorge Herralde. At a certain point Jorge, whom I love dearly, created the phrase "the dream team of British writers" (Amis, Barnes, Mc Ewan, Ishiguro, Rushdie, Swift and so on). This label was successful - what Jorge didn't say was that all of them were published by Jorge Herralde. Many years later people still ask me about the "British dream team of writers". It's a mixture of luck and talent and publicity and chance: there are very good British writers of subsequent generations.

Do you like any US writers?

British writers tend to divide into those who are pulled towards North America and those who are pulled towards Europe, and I think that because we share a common language it's more dangerous to be pulled towards North America. I like to say that because I happen to be pulled towards Europe, that's where my area of influence is. I think that my roots are partly in France and then Russia. To me North American literature, because it's written in English, is much more exotic in some ways than European literature of the 19th century, but I certainly admire many contemporary US writers - Salinger, Lorrie Moore. I revere John Updike: I'm glad I'm not an American novelist because Updike has written the greatest US novel in the Rabbit quintet. He can describe things, the ordinary, sensuous aspect of life (the colours, the touch of things) in a way that I know I can't. If I was a US writer I'd be more depressed than I am because I am an English writer.

There is a story that you took back 10 years later (Talking it Over and Love, etc). What made you revisit?

When I finished Talking It Over I thought the story was finished, and I didn't think about it much because once my books are over I think about them not as dead things but as finished things. And then people started asking me what happened next, and I would say "What do you think?" and they would say different things. Talking It Over ends with a scene which is being organized by the wife to make her first husband think that the second marriage is a disaster. I noticed the difference when I'd go to France: they would answer "She's not gonna stay with that dreadful fellow." I don't know about that! And we started arguing about what would happen, and I'd say "It's very unusual for English people to divorce twice, once is getting a bit normal but twice is very rare", and they said "No, but she's gonna divorce him." The readers were keeping the story alive for me. The problem with giving interviews is that they always come back to haunt you: about six or seven years after Talking It Over was published I did one of those Q&As on the literary pages and one of the questions "Which books should have a sequel?" I just gave what I then believed, which is "No book should have a sequel." I'd forgotten that I'd answered that question and eighteen months later I started writing a sequel, "Love, etc.". When the interviews started everybody said "You said no book should have a sequel!", so I started saying "No, this book is the book, the other one was a prequel."

In what ways have you used France to explore England or Englishness?

France is my second country. I sometimes find myself astonished by how far and how often children of the current generation travel. I was at the literary festival in Parati, Brazil, and the son of Hanif Kureishi was there too (he's about this high). He said "Do you prefer San Francisco or Hong Kong?" and I almost just slapped him around... I thought of how much things had changed since I was that high, because it was perfectly normal not to go anywhere, to stay in your own country, and I didn't go abroad until I was 13 and I didn't go to another country apart from France until I was 18 or 19. And so the first country that you went to made a much bigger impact than it would on a child today who woukld have seen lots of countries on television and would be used to going to airports and things like that. So I think that from an early age I learned from France that there were places where people did things differently, sand that different didn't necessarily mean worse, in fact it could mean better. I don't think it's as straightforward as I'd go to France and I'd look at my own country and see it differently, but I do think it's important to know it possible for people to know one other culture, one other language very well because the danger for English-speaking people is to be lazy especially about languages. Just to speak another language is to discover that there are different ways of expressing truth, and you begin to compare truth as you compare languages. And also you discover that you say different things in another language: I give interviews in England in English and in France in French, and often I don't give the same answers! It's not because I'm lying and it's not because I'm bored, it's just that the culture and the language take you like a river in a different direction. And I'm very depressed by one thing that's happened recently in myt country, and it's that the study of foreign languages is in serious decline. It was norm that every child had to learn a foreign language to a certain level, and now with a sort of false idea of democracy children are being offered to choose their subjects. I was allowed to choose in my time between Greek or German, which were both perhaps difficult, but if you are allowed to choose between foreign languages and Media Studies most children are gonna choose Media Studies. The knock-on effect is that fewer children are studying foreign languages in British schools, and therefore in the universities: university posts in Spanish, French and other languages are declining, and it's an awful paradox of the modern world, that the more we are intertwined the less some of us speak the others' languages.
You have described literature as ambiguity: do you think literature has to lie in order to find the truth?

You often get asked the question "What does literature do? What do books do?", and I tend to answer it tells beautiful, ordered lies in order to tell hard, exact truths. Of course I've said it so many times that I no longer believe it! Of course I believe fundamentally that all art, and especially the one that I practice, lies, that painters paint things that never existed, in theatre you see characters that don't exist, and in books you think for the hours that you read the novel that Madame Bovary is a real woman who takes poison and betrays her husband, and yet within these things are the truths that we shouldn't leave behind as a civilization. Of course art tells more truths than the opposing truths of politics or religion or the day-to-day truths of journalism (I've worked as a journalist myself so I'm allowed to insult myself), but that's what it's about and that's why it lasts.

If in 100 years your house is open to the public, do you think it will be a true reflection of yourself?
I was very surprised to see the cover of an Argentine newspaper a big photograph of me standing in my own studio. I looked at it rather as if it wasn't mine: I saw a wastepaper basket which was very full of things, and a word processor and a typewriter, and there's a little sign at the back which I couldn't quite read, and I began looking at my study as someone else might who walked into it or were it to be preserved in some way. I'm not very interested in what happens to me when I'm dead, it would be nice to think that people will carry on reading my books but it's certainly possible that someone will buy my house and knock it down. Flaubert quite liked the idea that when people dies, instead of their houses being preserved they were knocked down - during his oriental travels he discovered a tradition that when a chief died his house was knocked down rather than preserve it, now we do the opposite thing and preserve everything. I quite like the idea of chance, of the haphazard having an effect. The houses that often have moved me are in fact the houses that by chance have survived exactly as they were: the house of Georges Sand in the middle of France is the most wonderful example of it because. She died in 1876, and her family carried on living in the house and her granddaughter died after the Second World War, so the house has been kept exactly as it was but also used. And then it was given to the local authorities and it was preserved, and all the stuff from her time is there but you feel it has an extra life. I find it rather strange nowadays the idea that a painting goes straight from an artist's studio into a museum, it strikes me as odd because it used to be that it ought to have a life in between, that it ought to hang in people's walls and people ought to look at it as a domestic object and then at a certain time it goes to the museum or a rubbish heap. I don't like the idea of the instant mummification of things.

Is there in English writers today a parasitism of sorts towards certain writers of the traditional canon, such as Kipling?

I don't think it's parasitism, it's more a celebration, a way of keeping them alive. Sometimes you have a very direct relationship with writers of the past, you read them for a while, you stop reading them or continue, some of them are great writers when you are 20 but not great when you are 40, and the greatest writers last all through your life and they change as you change. And then there's a more complicated relationship with writers. I am embarrassed to admit that I read the Quixote for the first time in the last 10 years, that I never read it while I was reading the other classics. The Quixote was one of the great books for Flaubert: he read it very young and he constantly reread it. Because I know Flaubert quite well I had read everything Flaubert had ever written about Quixote before I read it, and so when I finally read Quixote I thought "This explains Bouvard et Pécuchet" or "This aspect has something of Madame Bovary." You often see a great work through a filter of subsequent writers. It's interesting that the English writers who Borges admired in particular (Stevenson, H. G. Wells, Chesterton) are now deeply out of fashion in England. I think I read one book by Stevenson, one by Chesterton and one by H. G. Wells and I'm not unusual in this. I would reread them because of Borges, and so you then reread them through the filter that Borges defined in them, they would become more Borgesian than they were when they were written. That's how I regard writers of the past.

You were talking about reconstructing a tradition: how does that relate to England being rebuilt as a theme park in England, England?

It may be significant that I wrote most of that book and had most of the ideas for it when I was living in the United States, I needed distance from my country in order to think about it. What came out of seeing 200 about to arise and thinking "This will be a time to reflect, not on the state of Britain, but on the idea of Britain, and by extension the idea of the old nation states." And it seemed to me that what was happening quite fast was that the individuality of countries was being gradually eroded, and it seemed to be happening more quickly in Europe than perhaps anywhere else. And it was a mixture of Americanization, globalization, bureaucratization, Europeanization, idleness, the way the market works nowadays, so that you could pick someone up and put them down in a street in many different cities of Europe and they wouldn't be able to tell where they were. And I thought that what was happening was that in response to this countries like mine would say "Well, that may be happening but we are still as really as English as we ever were, as French as we ever were, as German as we ever were." What then happens is that the country erects certain totems, certain symbols, and says "Look, we are just as British as we ever were because we have the Royal Family, we have Manchester United, we have the Beatles, we have cream teas, we have policemen with helmets, we have red postboxes." So I said "Let's take that to the logical conclusion, let's put all that stuff together on one island and call it England." And that's what I did: it's obviously satirical and farcical but it seemed to me that more and more this is what was happening. It's also about the way in which the replica has come to be as authentic and as valued as the real. You go to Florence, you see Michelangelo's statue of David in the Piazza and you admire it, and maybe someone comes up to you and says "It's not the real one, the real one is in the Academia." At that point, do you then say "Oh, I'll go to the Academia" or do you say "I've seen it"? And I'm no different from anyone else, I'll probably say "Well, that's it." I read somewhere that in the last 12 months more visitors have gone to see the replica version of Venice in Las Vegas that went to Venice itself. Part of me says that his is a jolly good idea because if they don't go to Venice then I can go to Venice, but I think this is the way that we are heading.


The Barnes Experience

El miércoles pasado, recién bajado del micro que me trajo de las vacaciones, me tocó una entrevista con uno de mis ídolos personales, Julian Barnes. Fue un encuentro con gente de varios medios, que mayormente sacaron al día siguiente versiones súper extractadas de la charla.

Leí por primera vez a Barnes en 1993 (Staring at the Sun) y después fui avanzando sistemáticamente hacia la admiración, especialmente de Talking It Over, England, England y Flaubert's Parrot. No pude (ni quise) resistir el cholulismo de darle un libro para autografiar (England, England, libro que devoré en una tarde sobre todo porque la idea principal es la versión corregida, aumentada y millones de veces mejor ejecutada de la primer y absolutamente impublicable novela que escribí, a los 17 años, llamada Buenos Aires (mr): el pasado, hoy). Va a la colección de libros cholulizados, junto con un autógrafo de María Elena Walsh y los ejemplares firmados de David Lodge y Hanif Kureishi.

Barnes es, como dicen los ingleses, "articulate": más que hablar, escribe en voz alta. Sus palabras, exactamente como las dijo, están listas para publicar - no se repite, no duda, no vuelve atrás, no tuve que editar en lo más mínimo la desgrabación. Piensa antes de hablar y después camina sobre seguro, dice cosas que quizás dijo en otras entrevistas (hay preguntas que siempre se repiten) pero ninguna pregunta, ni siquiera las descolgadas o claramente "nuevas", lo dejan mal parado.

Ayer, hoy y mañana el Buenos Aires Herald publica mi versión "oficial" de los hechos - en tres partes para incluir prácticamente todo lo que dijo Barnes, más algunas acotaciones e hilvanados de quien suscribe. Mañana voy a colgar del blog el "crudo", la desgrabación de la charla entera sobre la que armé las notas y que tiene preguntas de todos los periodistas (algunas muy buenas, otras descolgadas, un par francamente impresentables). Así que ya saben, sintonicen esta batifrecuencia


Uno de tanto en tanto viene bien

Recién llegado de las serranas vacaciones, el recuento de lecturas da más bien escaso: en otras épocas mi ritmo era de 1 libro cada día y medio, ahora paso más tiempo en la pileta con Maite que enterrado entre las páginas.

Leí Letters from London, un excelente libro que recopila los artículos de Julian Barnes para The New Yorker. Recomiendo calurosamente el libro, que además tuvo el adicional de ser "preparación" para entrevistar a Barnes esta tarde en su fugacísimo paso por Buenos Aires.

Tengo a mitad de camino The Ladies of Grace-Adieu, un libro de cuentos de Susanna Clarke en el que reincide en los temas y los tonos de Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell demostrando de paso que puede escribir con un aire Jane Austen o como se le canten las ganas sin que se le mueva un pelo, y con la misma efectividad de Strange & Norrell (que también aparecen como personajes, así como el Raven King y toda su troupe).

Pero en el medio me ensarté con algo que supuse iba a ser el hallazgo del verano y resultó un fiasco: Beyond this Horizon, de Robert Heinlein. Conocí a Heinlein gracias a Carlos, que me regaló los ibros de Lazarus Long, y a alguna otra lectura suelta de mi época de leer ciencia ficción a pasto. Heinlein es uno de los popes de la "línea dura", al estilo Asimov o Clarke (más cerca de Asimov que de Clarke), pero a pesar de que Wikipedia lo define cono una obra maestra este libro es un bodrio de proporciones importantes.

Pero de todo se aprende, y las maneras en las que este libro se cae a pedazos dicen bastante de cómo escribir bien:
  • A Heinlein le interesa más bajar línea sobre sus ideas de genética, eugenesia y economía que contar una historia. Bah, Heinlein en realidad no tiene ni historia ni personajes ni nada: tiene un par de ideas sobre las que quiere machacar y 200 páginas que llenar.
  • A mitad de camino se queda sin historia y directamente convierte al libro en un congreso de futurología por dos pesos, filosofía berreta y unas ínfulas pretenciosas que alcanzan como para 5 tomos de la Enciclopedia Británica, con dosis de líneas argumentales prefabricadas prefabricadas como para que las cosas "avancen".
  • Está escrito con los codos, sobre todo por ese cáncer de la sci-fi línea dura cuando no está bien escrita: si lo único que improta es inventar un mundo complicado basado en ideas locas, ¿cómo se lo explico al lector? Fácil: la primer mitad del libro está llena de personajes tarados a los que les explican hasta cómo bajarse el cierre cuando hacen pis, o de discusiones en las que por cualquier excusa hacen el racconto de la historia universal desde el año en que se escribió el libro en adelante. Tampoco ayuda que los diálogos sean inconsistentes, que no haya transiciones entre escenas, que los personajes sean menos que unidimensionales y una larga lista de etcéteras a nivel "técnico".
Lo interesante es justamente la imagen negativa: la historia lleva el libro, o los buenos personajes, o la buena escritura, pero lo que menos importan son esas dos putas ideas sobre las que quiere machacar el escritor. Y con esta conclusión espero que alguno se ahorre de leer el libro...

Y me olvidaba: estos librejos los compré en Walrus Books, una de mis nuevas librerías de cabecera en donde venden y compran libros usados en inglés con precios bastante más potables que los de las librerías "del gremio" (KEL, SBS, Acme y demás), puesta en un local precioso de San Telmo (Estados Unidos 617, esquina Piedras si mal no recuerdo). El catálogo tiene cosas interesantes y otras no tanto, pero dan ganas de revolver y aparte de los libros nuevos que pegan la línea de los 60 pesos se consiguen buenas cosas por debajo de los 30 (Barnes: $22, Clarke: $25, Heinlein: $8 en una edición batallada de 1968, toda la narrativa breve de Kafka en inglés incluyendo la Metamorfosis y las alegorías: $50). Vale la pena una visita.